I’ve embarked on my first international trip of 2022 this week, and as usual, I wanted to share with you a bit of the trip planning process.
The first couple of trips I’ve lined up for this year are geared towards a mix of business and pleasure.
I’d like to review a wide range of new airlines and premium cabins that we as a community will likely be flying on more often in the coming years, while also visiting some new places and catching up with friends.
With that in mind, this early February trip was built around a few key puzzle pieces:
- I had an outstanding cash ticket on KLM business class out of Toronto that I needed to take at some point in 2022. This was booked as part of a cheap US$750 round-trip cash fare out of Budapest back in 2020, and I had already flown the first segment on Air France A350 business class in December 2020.
- Aeroplan had recently added Gulf Air and Oman Air as exciting new airline partners, and I wanted to review both of their premium offerings.
These considerations dictated the overall structure of the trip, and it meant that I’d most likely want to spend some time in the Middle East since I’m out here anyway.
I’ve long been curious about Bahrain, a country I hadn’t visited before, and also toyed with the idea of passing through Dubai for a couple of days to check out Expo 2020 before it wraps up in March.
When it turned out that my friend Tiezheng from Vicarious Voyager was spending some time at his home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the final element of the trip fell into place – I figured there was no better opportunity to visit a previously closed-off country that is now rapidly opening up to foreigners than when a local friend happened to be in town.
I’d fly from Toronto to Amsterdam on KLM 787-9 business class, completing the return portion of my paid SkyTeam cash fare that was originally booked out of Budapest.
Air France and KLM have recently become more easily accessible to Canadian travellers as the Flying Blue program has linked up with Amex Membership Rewards, so I look forward to sharing the review of KLM’s flagship business class cabin for you to consider on your transatlantic journeys.
Then, I’d continue the journey by way of Gulf Air 787 business class from Frankfurt to Bahrain. This route doesn’t feature the 787 on every day of the week, but I made sure to pick a day that I’d get to experience Gulf Air’s signature Apex Suites.
(What about getting between Amsterdam and Frankfurt? Well, there was only one KLM flight of the day that could possibly allow me to make tight connections on either end, and it cost me 6,000 Flying Blue miles when the cash fare was going for $450+. Flying Blue miles can be quite valuable on a last-minute basis, I must say!)
I planned a two-night stay in Bahrain before continuing to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on another Gulf Air 787 segment. I booked the whole thing for 50,000 Aeroplan points: 45,000 points for the one-way itinerary within the Atlantic Zone of up to 4,000 miles flown, plus 5,000 points for the stopover in Bahrain.
Now, I’m actually writing this article from Riyadh, and my return journey is yet to be fully finalized. Nevertheless, it’ll certainly include a leg on Oman Air 787 First Class for 65,000 Aeroplan points from Muscat to London.
(Considering the flying time and the availability of premium products, I’d say that Europe–Middle East redemptions in business class or First Class for 45,000 or 65,000 points respectively can be a very compelling Aeroplan sweet spot indeed.)
For Riyadh–Dubai and Dubai–Muscat, I’ll most likely be relying on a mix of intra-Gulf low-cost carriers and perhaps a quick use of Emirates Skywards miles for a regional flight. I’d have preferred to tack on Dubai–Muscat to my Muscat–London leg on the same Aeroplan ticket, but the timing of the flights doesn’t fully work out.
And lastly, I need to get from London back to Vancouver on a somewhat time-sensitive basis before Valentine’s Day, and I’ve yet to fully decide on the best way to complete the return journey.
I’m surveying several options as I wait to see if last-minute award space opens up: Swiss A330 business class, United Polaris, British Airways A350 Club Suites, or Lufthansa First Class via San Francisco (which I’ll actually fly this time). 😉
If you have any ideas for me or particular airline reviews that you’d like to see, feel free to shout in the comments below and I’ll look into making it happen!
There isn’t all too much going on in terms of aspirational hotels on this trip, but I do hope to put out a few fun reviews.
From my time in Toronto before starting the trip, you’ll see a few reviews of The Pearle Hotel Burlington, Autograph Collection, as well as the Sheraton Centre Toronto and its recently refurbished club lounge.
My next two hotel nights were in Bahrain. Even though there’s a Ritz-Carlton in town, which my friends from the Gulf region recall as a place where they loved to spend time as kids, I thought the pricing of almost $500/night was exorbitant for the hotel’s quality (judging by the pictures).
Plus, I was a lot more interested in exploring Bahrain than spending time at the hotel or resort, so I went ahead with one night each at the Westin and Le Méridien at Bahrain’s City Centre shopping mall.
Both properties were fairly nondescript upscale places with a convenient club lounge, and I’ll be sharing some pictures from them with our Prince of Travel members on the Member Feed.
(Going forward, with the abundance of “significant” hotels around the world that I’d like to review in full on the website, I’ll be leaving the coverage of some of my more pedestrian hotel stays for our members to enjoy.)
It’s a similar story in Riyadh, a city where hotel prices can be exorbitant given the wealth of the country. I’ve picked the conveniently-located Courtyard Riyadh Northern Ring Road for my first two nights here, at a very digestible 17,500 Bonvoy points per night compared to the pricier options in town.
I may extend my stay for a few more nights, or pop over to The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh if an inclination for luxury strikes (or if a few of you let me know that you’d love to see a review).
Lastly, I do hope to dabble in a bit of luxury in Dubai, a place where visitors are almost spoilt for choice when it comes to high-end hotels.
I’ve booked the St. Regis Dubai, The Palm, which newly opened in 2021 and is decently situated for access to Expo 2020 by train. I snagged a cash rate of $350 and look forward to trying out a new property of which I’ve heard some great things.
Testing and Proof of Vaccination
Here’s how I’ve dealt with and will be dealing with the various countries’ entry requirements on this trip:
- Transiting through the Netherlands and Germany requires proof of vaccination only.
- To enter Bahrain, I needed a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure, which I took with DM6 Labs in Toronto for $150; I also needed to complete a PCR test upon arrival and self-isolate until I received a result (10 hours later).
- To enter Saudi Arabia, I needed a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure; I simply used my negative test result from arriving in Bahrain.
- To enter the UAE, I’ll need a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure; I’ll be heading to a local Riyadh clinic with Tiezheng’s help, where PCR tests cost $30 with a three-hour turnaround.
- To return to Canada, I have a positive PCR test within the past 180 days that I can use as an exemption to the negative molecular test requirement. The same is true if I need to transit the US en route back home, as I’ll have a positive PCR test within the past 90 days and a doctor’s note verifying that I’ve exited my isolation period.
My 2022 travels are under way, and I’m delighted to be back in a part of the world whose layers I find quite interesting to peel back with every visit.
What’s more, between KLM, Gulf Air, Oman Air, and a fourth mystery airline, I look forward to bringing you some interesting flight reviews and travel vlogs from airlines and destinations that many of us will look forward to experiencing in the coming years.